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Editorial / Content Calendars: Why You Need One & How to Pick the Best

By: Monica Mizzi — May 17, 2018

Editorial calendars, also known as content calendars, are one of those marketing tools many businesses know they should look into, but never do.

We get it – they can seem like one of those non-essential components of a content marketing strategy. You may think you’ve gotten by fine without them thus far.

However, if you value such metrics as more website visitors, higher conversion rates, and richer community engagement, editorial calendars should have a place in your company.

But unlike some content marketing resources which state you must use X type in order to reap their benefits, or Y type is the be-all and end-all editorial calendars, we at Compose.ly would like to present a new point of view:

Choose the editorial calendar that suits the needs of your business.

That is, rather than push a “one-size-fits-all” editorial calendar for your business to use – we advise that you instead choose a calendar that will best support the nature of how your team works, your overall content marketing goals, and your budget.

Don’t know where to start? Below, we’ll discuss what they are and why they’re important. Then we’ll run through a variety of options, and make suggestions about which one is most suitable for each type of business. Finally, we’ll cap off by providing some tips for you to make the most of your content calendar – whichever one you end up choosing.

Table of Contents

  1. What is an Editorial Calendar & Why Do I Need One?
  2. Finding the Right Content Calendar for Your Business
  3. 3 Tips to Make the Most of Your Content Calendar

1. What is an Editorial Calendar & Why Do I Need One?

An editorial calendar is a tool that allows you to better plan and manage your content creation output and publication. Using one helps to establish an extra layer of organization to the editorial process by keeping key parties (such as editors, writers, and managers) accountable for their respective responsibilities.

As you’ll discover below, editorial calendars come in many different forms – each with their advantages and disadvantages.

But before we dive into which one is right for you, let’s first explore why you even need one in the first place. Content calendars allow you to:

  • Ensure you are posting content in a consistent manner
  • Plan in advance what topics to cover
  • Keep track of who is writing what and when it is due
  • Organize when posts will be published
  • Identify gaps in your content or publication schedule
  • Better collaborate with your social media team
  • Notice if you’re writing too much or too little about certain topics or themes

While you can seemingly “get away” without using a content calendar, you’ll be missing out on all of the benefits mentioned above. What’s more, without any unified system of organizing the creation and publication of your content, you may have trouble down the line when you try to scale your content marketing strategy.

Printable Editorial Calendar

printable content calendar

Printable editorial calendars are a great option for those who prefer to use pen and paper.

The printable editorial calendar is by far the most “old school” approach to content calendars. Search “printable editorial calendar” or “paper editorial calendar” (or alternatively, use “content calendar” in your search term) in Google, and you’ll get back countless results – including a variety of free options. You can even search Pinterest for a roundup of more aesthetically-pleasing calendars.

Depending on their format, printable calendars can either be used in two ways:

Write your content plans directly on it

If you are happy planning and detailing your content plans with just a good ol’ pen and paper, writing on a printable content calendar may be a sound option for you. The advantage of this approach is that it’s dirt cheap, as well as portable (so long as you make it small enough!).

But as you can imagine, making any changes to your content calendar becomes tricky – unless you’re writing with pencil and can just erase your errors or modifications, you’ll have to use white-out.

Use Post-it notes to organize your calendar

An alternative to writing on your calendar is to write your ideas on Post-it notes. Simply find a calendar that is designed for Post-it note usage, or print off one that is large enough that it accommodates for them.

mamamia.com.au post-it wall for editorial calendar

Mamamia’s famous post-it wall. (Image credit: Mamamia)

You can even just stick Post-its directly on your office wall – which is what Australia’s largest women’s website, Mamamia.com.au, does.

The advantage of using Post-it notes is that you can easily move around your content ideas. You can also use different colored Post-it notes to aid the organization of your calendar.

For example, if you run a business blog, pink could represent topics about entrepreneurs, blue could represent topics about established businesses, and yellow could represent topics about your own company.

Colors can also be used to delineate between different mediums of content e.g. blog, video post, interview, white paper etc.


thumbs up iconBest fit for: Tactile content creators, small businesses with small content needs, or those who prefer a a simpler approach.
stack of coinsCost: Free – although there are paid services specializing in editorial calendar print-outs.


Big Tip
Why not have the best of both worlds? You can always start off planning your ideas using a printable content calendar, and once you have a clearer idea of your plan, move them over to one of the online options below.

Google Sheets / Excel

Excel and Google Sheets editorial calendars

There are literally thousands of Google Sheets and Excel editorial calendars to choose from on the net… some more appealing than others.

There are two types of people in the world – those who love spreadsheets, and those who hate ‘em. Jokes aside, if you or your team can’t stand spreadsheets, why would you host your content calendar on one?

We advise that only those who don’t mind working on Google spreadsheets or Excel to opt for this type of editorial calendar. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself begrudgingly updating it, and eventually it will be as good as gone.

So if you are someone who is pro-spreadsheet, what benefits does an editorial calendar based on a spreadsheet provide? Spreadsheets offer a a clean, no-fuss overview of your content plans. No gimmicks – just simple cells you can customize to fit your needs.

If you’re planning to go the spreadsheet route, you can either create one from scratch, or use a template you can modify to reflect your preferences.

There are all kinds of spreadsheets to choose from – varying in detail and design. For instance, in addition to fundamental categories such as the post title, subject area, author, status, and projected due date, a spreadsheet may contain any mixture of the following additional categories:

  • What stage of the buying cycle the post is aimed at
  • The intended audience
  • Who the editor will be
  • The post’s due date
  • Related promotions
  • Target keywords

These categories represent just some of the categories you can add to your spreadsheet. You can have as few or many as you want – making the spreadsheet one of the most flexible forms of editorial calendar for you to consider.


thumbs up iconBest Fit For: Spreadsheet fans and those who don’t want any bells and whistles.

stack of coinsCost: Free.


Big Tip
Consider making a DIY editorial calendar template by taking the best ideas out of each design and combining them in one, original calendar. All you need to do is download a variety of free calendars, and borrow any ideas you’d like to add to your own.

Google Calendar

Using an actual calendar as an editorial calendar? It almost seems too ingenious! But hey, the best ideas are often the simplest ones.

This idea comes from the folks at Hubspot, whose marketers rely on Google Calendar to add a layer of organization to their editorial needs. Just read this glowing review they shared:

“After trying a ton of other solutions, our team found that we really operated the best with just a simple Google Calendar. In fact, this has actually been the longest-running editorial calendar solution our team has ever seen.”

So why do they so strongly recommend their readers to use Google Calendar? Here are some of the reasons they shared:

  • As existing G Suite users, Hubspot’s team is already familiar with the ins and outs of Google, so they found it was easy to get in the habit of checking Google Calendar.
  • It’s simple to move and schedule things, as well as keep relevant people in the loop because these features are already built-in.
  • Using an actual calendar proved more effective than trying to “hack” the calendar function of other types of editorial calendars.
  • Adding people to view the calendar is straightforward, making it easy for “multiple teams to collaborate, see what’s being published, and figure out when they might be able to launch content and campaigns.”

thumbs up iconBest fit for: Businesses that already use (and like using) Google Spreadsheets or Excel regularly.

stack of coinsCost: Free – you can either make your own, or there are many free templates available from a variety of companies.


Trello

Trello is the go-to content management tool for an increasing number of companies, including big-names like Mashable and ReadWrite.

If you’re unfamiliar with Trello, it is an interactive board that allows you to intuitively organize content tasks. To take it straight from the horse’s mouth: “Trello’s boards, lists, and cards enable you to organize and prioritize your projects in a fun, flexible and rewarding way.”

Trello Editorial calendar

This is how the calendar view of a Trello board looks like. (Image source: Trello)

We at Compose.ly also use Trello to organize all of our posts on this very blog you’re reading now, The Content Blueprint. I asked a few members of our content creation team at Compose.ly about their thoughts on using Trello as a content calendar, and here’s what they had to say:

“Trello’s simple-to-use interface is instantly understandable to new hires, and the ability to assign and discuss each task in depth on specific cards keeps everyone accountable and reduces bottlenecking significantly.”

– Mark Slack, Creative Director at Compose.ly.

“As a visual person, Trello’s neat organizational layout and color-coding options make it easy to track the progress of multiple projects and see what’s next in our publishing schedule.”

– Joyce Chou, Content Specialist at Compose.ly.

“Trello is perfect for managing projects and making sure all content is accounted for. The home page works like a social media feed, so it’s easy to see what everyone is working on without having to search through each card.”

– Caitlin Hennegan, Content Specialist at Compose.ly

Personally, I appreciate the sleekness of Trello’s user interface – if you’re after a general overview of all projects in the pipeline, you can easily see this at a glance. And if you’re after more details of a specific project, you can simply click into the card to see of all of the components involved in a task. There’s even the option to view all of your tasks in a calendar-view, as the image above shows.

Now, all of this may sound like a native advertisement for Trello – but it’s not. We have tested out other content calendars – including the more “sophisticated” and pricier options below – and have overall found Trello to be the most useful and user-friendly tool for content management.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s free (forever!) to access Trello’s standard service, although there are paid plans available if you’d like to make use of additional features.

Editorial Calendar viewing option on Trello

Trello makes the process of organizing and understanding your content timeline easy. (Image source: Trello)

However, the drawback of Trello is that it doesn’t have all of the flashy integrations that paid options have (which we outline below). As such, the flow of tasks and passage of communication between different teams, such as the content team and social media team, is somewhat limited. For example, in order to link Twitter to your Trello board, you will have to use a third-party integration, whereas many paid editorial calendars will offer this integration built-in.

If you’re interested in learning more about Trello, take a read of their how-to guide for using Trello as an editorial calendar, or see a live version of the Trello board pictured above – which is complete with clickable features.


thumbs up iconBest fit for: Businesses looking for a balance between functionality and cost-effectiveness.

stack of coinsCost: Free; however, if you have a larger organization or want additional perks, you may want to consider investing in their paid plans.


If you want to invest in the Rolls Royce of content calendars, you may want to look into paid options.

There are a handful of companies – such as CoSchedule and DivvyHQ – which specialize in providing state-of-the-art editorial calendars with all of the interactivity and features you could imagine.

So what features do paid content calendars provide that may entice you?

Coschedule

Coschedule content calendar

A peek at CoSchedule’s editorial calendar. (Image credit: CoSchedule)

While the features will vary from company to company, Coschedule, which brands itself as “One Calendar To Rule Them All,” offers features such as:

  • Saved calendar views
  • Task templates
  • Social media scheduling
  • Integration of third-party tools such as Google Analytics and Evernote
  • The ability to identify who’s working productively, and who’s not

DivvyHQ

DivvyHQ dashboard

A preview of DivvyHQ’s dashboard. (Image credit: DivvyHQ)

In comparison, DivvyHQ, which boasts a recommendation from Content Marketing Institute, provides such features as:

  • The ability to track content performance via Divvy’s analytics
  • Content strategy audit and reporting tools
  • Customizable content types and content strategy fields
  • Campaigns management
  • Custom content workflows

Of course, all of these helpful features come at a hefty price tag, paid for on a tiered monthly basis. But if you can afford it, and require a more integrated and advanced approach to your editorial calendar, it may just be worth the investment.


thumbs up iconBest fit for: Companies with large editorial needs and a big budget.

stack of coinsCost: Anywhere from $50 for simpler options to $1200 a month for more advanced calendars.


3. 3 Tips to Make the Most of Your Content Calendar

So now that you have chosen the right calendar for your business – whichever it may be – there are a couple of steps you should take in order to make the most of your calendar.

Sure, you could just start using it – but you’ll be missing out on the opportunity to develop a better understanding of what your content needs are. With this better understanding, you will have the knowledge of how to more effectively engages your audience, and in turn,

Know who your target customer is and write for them

Compose.ly user persona sample

Want to create user personas for your company? Simply download our free user persona template.

Before you begin creating any content for your editorial calendar – you should know who your customer is. After all, how will you know what topics to write about and what tone and angle to take if your content doesn’t take into account the very people you’re trying to target?

One of the most effective ways to identify who your target customer is to make comprehensive user personas. As our step-by-step user persona guide shows, user personas are used by businesses to paint a more comprehensive picture of their target customers.

Big Tip
Download our free user persona template to get started on creating your company’s user personas today. For a sneak peak of what our template looks like, check it out in the image above!

Once you know who your target customer is, you can start writing with their needs and interests in mind. Instead of just guessing what they would enjoy reading, you will have the data to establish a content strategy based on both research and reason.

Popular blogs and other means of content creation doesn’t just become popular by accident. The companies behind the world’s most successful pieces of content have a strong understanding of what posts will make their customers tick. They can do this because they have an intimate knowledge of their customers – garnered through the information collated via user personas.

2. Conduct an Audit of Your Current Content

A comprehensive content audit is one of the best ways to identify what type of content is working, and what needs fixing. Without auditing your content, you won’t have a clear understanding of your particular business’ content needs.

Perhaps you could make your content more engaging by adding multimedia throughout your posts, such as relevant videos, images, or infographics?

Or maybe you could boost your content strategy by shaking up the medium on which you publish your content. For example, publishing a white paper will have a different impact than publishing an ebook.

A content audit will help you figure all of this out. Once you’ve conducted your content audit, you should update your content calendar accordingly. It’s a good rule of thumb to conduct a content audit regularly, as your content needs and your audience’s preferences won’t necessarily stay the same over time.

This is particularly true as your business expands. You will need to learn how to scale your content strategy so it adapts and continues to thrive as your business grows.

3. Work Out How Often You Should Post

There are many benefits to maintaining an active, relevant, and engaging blog. From increasing your customer and client base and strengthening your search engine optimization strategy, to helping foster brand equity and providing content for your social media channels, the value of blogging for your business is undeniable.

So you may be wondering, “How often do I need to post to reap the rewards of publishing content?”

While we’d love to say that there is a hard and fast rule for how often is ideal – it really is dependent on a number of factors.

As SEO marketer Neil Patel addresses in his post, 5 Simple Steps That’ll Help You Determine How Often You Need to Blog, there is no magic number that can be applied across the board. To exemplify the point, Patel points out that while Huffington Post has found posting 1,600 to 2,000 posts a day to be an effective content strategy, this will not be the case for most other businesses.

Instead, he suggests the following steps to identify the right strategy for your business:

  1. Define your business and content marketing goals.
  2. Work out how many blogs you have already published, and identify which posts led to an increase in traffic.
  3. Track both your blog’s organic and social media visibility.
  4. Determine both your audience’s demand for your blog posts, as well as your bandwidth to create new posts.
  5. Experiment, research, and continue to revise your strategy until you find a “sweet spot.”

You should also keep in mind that there are many variables which determine the time needed for a content marketing strategy to take hold. Simply posting often won’t necessarily lead to a quick boost in rankings or site traffic. Profitable outcomes can generally take between six and twelve months, so you need to exercise patience and not be dismayed when your efforts aren’t immediately fruitful.

Consistency, thus, is the key when it comes to reaping the rewards of creating content.

Conclusion

As you’ve learned, editorial calendars have a range of substantial benefits for your business. We believe that there’s no one-size-fits-all model for an editorial calendar, which is why we encourage businesses to read our overviews of the different options available in order to determine which is most suitable for their needs.

Let us know in the comments below which editorial you use at your company. Do you have any handy tips or tricks for making the most of this tool? We’d love to hear them!

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